Enabling is a word that has been used in drug and alcohol recovery circles for decades. It can be a term that is very misunderstood and misused. No loved one of an addict or alcoholic wants to be thought of as an “enabler.” To enable literally means to make something possible or easy. It can also mean to permit. An enabler is often believed to be complicit in the drug abuser’s self-destruction. The most common forms of enabling include: providing money to an active user, allowing an active addict/alcoholic to remain at home, paying for an addict/alcoholic’s legal costs, and other actions. Sometimes providing help in these ways is not enabling. How can one determine the difference?
Demonstrations of Love
The enabler will say that he or she is “just trying to help” or “what am I supposed to do, let him go broke or die?” It is never a question as to whether or not a parent or significant other loves the addict or alcoholic. The issue is always the demonstration of love. When most people think about “love” they are actually referring to sentiment. Love, as an action, is not always the easiest path to take. Sometimes love is best demonstrated through not accepting behavior that is harmful to one’s self or other people. When an active addict or alcoholic is allowed to avoid consequences of his or her behavior he or she is not being “loved.” This sounds harsh but consider the alternative. Someone actively using is not rational. His or her decisions are not made based on concern for self or others. The addict only wants to be left alone so he or she can continue to use. People are either a means to this end or are in the way. Until he or she is abstinent this way of thinking will not change.
Consider the Motives
There are some simple questions a loved one can ask when confused about whether or not a pattern of enabling is taking place:
- is this going to help my loved one find sobriety?
- am I doing this/providing this help because I feel guilty?
- am I worried about what others will think?
- am I doing this because it helps my loved one or because it will make me feel better?
These are not the only questions to ask but it is a beginning. Not every situation is the same. What one person does may be enabling while someone else does the exact same thing and it is not. There is no exact formula. Always seek the guidance of someone who is objective and has experience in this area. No loved one ever has to face these difficult decisions alone.